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The Concert in Central Park

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The Concert in Central Park
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Recorded live in Central Park,
New York City, 19 September 1981

Tracks

  1. Mrs. Robinson
  2. Homeward Bound
  3. America
  4. Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard
  5. Scarborough Fair
  6. April Come She Will
  7. Wake Up Little Susie (Felice and Boudleaux Bryant)
  8. Still Crazy After All These Years
  9. American Tune
  10. Late In The Evening
  11. Slip Slidin' Away
  12. A Heart In New York (Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle)
  13. Kodachrome / Maybelline (Paul Simon / Chuck Berry, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed)
  14. Bridge Over Troubled Water
  15. Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover
  16. The Boxer
  17. Old Friends
  18. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
  19. The Sound of Silence

Central Park1981[click for larger image]

Biography :
Bookends - the Simon and Garfunkel Story, 1982

Whatever the personal reasons for getting back together again (on what seems like a relatively permanent basis), Simon and Garfunkel were aided by the unlikely combination of the Rolling Stones and a sportswear firm. Many of the Sixties stalwarts had fallen by the way- side. Dylan's triumphant return in 1978 had been marred by the poor music which accompanied his later Christian 'rebirth'. The Beatles, even before John Lennon's tragic murder, were never likely to perform together again. American rock 'n' roll, while roaring ahead with Springsteen at its helm, was still trailing the dead weight of anonymous bands like Journey, Foreigner and Styx. It took the Stones to remind people of the pulling power of a guaranteed rock legend. Their 1981 American tour was the most successful in rock history (one day's tee shirt sales in San Francisco alone netted over a million dollars !) The fact which surprised many people was that the majority of people who actually went to see the Stones were kids who weren't even born when they were first around. They were out to see a rock 'n' roll legend, perhaps for the last time.

While Simon and Garfunkel's fans had kept pace with their respective solo careers, they still craved the magical combination of Simon and Garfunkel. That partnership proved irresistible, and provided the mass appeal. Nostalgia was proving all the more marketable as the world lurched hesitantly into a new decade. With the Beatles little more than a potent memory, Dylan a Christian recluse and the Stones proving there was a growing market available, the timing couldn't have been better for a Simon and Garfunkel reunion.

Paul Simon has always been vehemently partisan about his home city of New York, and willingly agreed to play a solo concert in Central Park in the autumn of 1981, when approached by Warren Hirsh of Fiorucci Sportswear, who had previously promoted similar shows in the park by James Taylor and Elton John Simon was keen on the idea, and approached Garfunkel to come and join him onstage for the second half of tile show. But as Garfunkel recalled the situation to Rolling Stone in 1981: "Some friends of ours said why not a full Simon and Garfunkel concert? That would give the crowd the biggest kick. It also didn't seem right to either of us that Paul should be the opening act for Simon and Garfunkel." The inevitability of the situation was apparent, and the duo began sounding each other out at rehearsal and in conversation. The announcement of a full time reunion may have seemed too much like an admission of failure. "It got easy again", said Simon, "Artie and I had some heart-to-heart talks, which, amazingly, we had never had, and we just settled some things . . . We found ourselves talking about what would work, instead of what the other person did that was wrong."

Both men had just turned forty, were upset by the response to their recent solo projects, realised the possibilities both creative and financial, that a reunion could bring and started thinking seriously about the idea. Hanging out together, all the old antagonisms were soon forgotten. The realisation that they had as much in common as had kept them previously apart was soon realised. "We reminded ourselves of the humour we shared, the jokes, the similar concerns the similarity of our lives" Garfunkel recalled.

It may have made perfect sense for the two of them. The rest of the world was slightly more cynical about Simon and Garfunkel's motives for reforming. The relative failure of their recent solo efforts, the enormous financial possibilities a reunion would bring to them both, the security of Simon and Garfunkel, a chance to test the reaction in their home town. These were some of the reactions news of their reunion brought, which Simon was swift to dismiss: "The truth is, neither Artie nor I feel our lives rise and fall on hit albums or flop albums . . . I don't think we'd get together if the potential for a joyous reunion weren't there. We'd never decide to grit our teeth just to make a couple of million dollars." Maybe not, and how comforting to be in a position to be able to say that.

September 19, 1981 was the date set for the reunion. The stage was built resembling the New York skyline, and the event cost around 750, 000 dollars to stage, with Simon putting up the bulk of the money. Large crowds were expected, but the size of the half million crowd surprised everyone. The days of the big festival, with a crowd of that size gathering to see one act, had long since past. They came in their hundreds of thousands not simply to a concert, but to celebrate the passing of time, and see if some of it could be snatched back. It was a chill, autumn evening when Mayor Ed Koch came onstage around dusk and announced simply: "Ladies and gentlemen, Simon and Garfunkel." The roars which greeted the two tiny figures were deafening, the city of New York paying tribute to two of its celebrated sons.

"It's great to do a neighbourhood concert" cracked Simon early on and the crowd roared their enthusiasm, paying tribute to the duo they wished had never gone away. It was an emotional occasion, a celebration of lost innocence. Simon and Garfunkel's rapturous reception was a testimony that, "after changes upon changes/we are more or less the same." That the turmoil of the intervening years was a bad dream, like Cambodia and Watergate had never happened. After eleven years, Simon and Garfunkel's Central Park concert was like the return of 'Joltin' Joe' DiMaggio.

The success of the Central Park show generated an enormous amount of interest in Simon and Garfunkel. CBS quickly compiled The Simon And Garfunkel Collection. "Seventeen of their all time greatest recordings which no-one's record collection will be complete without" boasted their old company. (Indeed, so swiftly was the the album put together in Britain, there were strong rumours that the hazy couple on the cover were not Simon and Garfunkel, simply a couple of lookalikes photographed somewhere on the Welsh Coast! It was a rumour CBS swiftly denied.) Nonetheless, the album arrived just in time for Christmas, and sold close on two million copies in Europe. There were no new songs, nor indeed any live versions of old songs on the album, so the sales indicated that, like the Stones, Simon and Garfunkel had reached a whole new generation of fans. Simon attained an intellectual accolade in 1980, when the revised Penguin Dictionary Of Modern Quotations included four of his lyrics. Simon was sandwiched between surrealist playwright N.F. Simpson and Frank Silver, author of Yes, We Have No Bananas, an irony I am sure he would appreciate.

The subsequent, obligatory live double album of the Central Park show offered a hint of the event Yet few of the familiar S&G songs are enhanced by the record, Kodachrome loses its dramatic drive, America, Homeward Bound and The Boxer are perfunctorily per- formed, and Garfunkel even manages to fluff the second verse of Bridge Over Troubled Water. The songs which worked best were those which had previously been solo Simon efforts, a funkier Slip Slidin Away, a thunderous Late In The Evening and a haunting American Tune all benefitted from Garfunkel's harmonising. His solo renderings of April Come She Will and Scarborough Fair are spellbinding.

The only 'new' songs are another excursion into the Everly Brothers back catalogue, and personally I find S&G's version of Wake Up Little Susie plain embarrassing, two 40 year old men wondering how their parents are going to react when they're late home from a date! Chuck Berry's automotive tribute, Maybelline, fares better, but adds little of real quality to the Simon and Garfunkel repertoire. A major disappointment is that room wasn't found on the album for Simon's only new song, The Late, Great Johnny Ace, a potted history of rock 'n' roll, and one of Simon's most touching, obviously autobiographical songs.

Johnny Ace was a young R&B singer, who had a posthumous Top 10 hit in 1955 with Pledging My Love. Ace died backstage on Christmas Eve 1954, after losing at Russian roulette. Simon's poignant tribute recalls Ace and conjures up the Beatles, Stones and John Lennon by name. The most chilling moment of the show came during Simon's performance, when, at the exact moment he invoked Lennon's name, a fan leapt onstage and rushed towards him. The look on Simon's face was of anguish, and terror, like thinking maybe he is the next to go, in front of half a million fans within a gunshot of the Dakota Building.

Simon was haunted for days afterwards, with the kid's words ringing in his ears: "Paul, I need to talk to you." That was how much Simon and Garfunkel meant to their millions of fans. It was a thin line between Mark Chapman and John Lennon, and between Paul Simon, and that unknown young man who had to speak to the man whose songs had reflected his life. The fact that it happened during Simon s tribute to another rock legend was eerie, the grey area between reality and illusion. An area that Paul Simon had so suitably evoked in his songs. Those songs which will ring down the years, suitable to the mood the listener wants, the mood Paul Simon helps create, because he understands.

So, 1982 brings Simon and Garfunkel together again, with talk of a new studio album, their first since Bridge Over Troubled Water. Their appearances this summer will mean millions of people will have the opportunity to relive a little bit of their past. Those haunting voices will harmonise again on Simon's marvellous songs, and the thousands gathered before their idols will scream for a song about the inability to communicate. And once again, Simon and Garfunkel will sing The Sounds Of Silence. And everyone will remember where they were when they first heard that song, and how their lives, and our lives, have changed since. And we will be comfortable in that shared memory. That is perhaps the real tribute to Simon and Garfunkel.

Bookends - the Simon and Garfunkel Story
by Patrick Humphries, 1982

The Concert in Central Park. 1982

related internet links

 Central Park [click for larger image]
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